- The Whiteness of the Weasel
We are not alone. I've known since boyhood that houses often have critters—that the structures we humans perceive as ours often contain other denizens who don't happen to share this proprietary attitude. The resulting interspecies disagreement often leads to conflict. During twenty-five years of residence in suburban New Jersey, for instance, I fought a low-intensity war against the squirrels on the property that my wife and I owned there. These cute troublemakers persistently invaded and nested in our attic, and I resolutely set traps to catch and relocate them to a nearby nature preserve. The result: nearly three hundred squirrels deported over the course of a quarter century. Following this and other experiences, I'm not surprised that when we moved to Vermont, the old house we bought would appeal to wildlife, nor am I shocked to hear scratchy sounds coming from the ceiling and the walls.
Neither am I astonished one January morning when Edith announces: "There's a rat in the bathroom!" She utters these words emphatically but without alarm.
"A rat? Are you sure?"
"It's big, it's white, and it has huge black eyes." Having closed the door, Edith has trapped this critter in the room. [End Page 131]
I'm puzzled by her description. It's true that a large rodent might well be a rat, but I'm surprised by the color. Most wild rats are gray, brown, or black. I've never heard of one that's white. I tell Edith I'll investigate; I ease into the bathroom; I look around. I sit on the closed toilet for a while and wait in silence. There's neither sight nor sound of an intruding animal. I don't doubt that she has spotted something, but whatever she saw has somehow escaped.
A day later, after Edith has left Vermont for a work assignment, I prepare the house for my own week out of town. One of my chores is to move firewood from the attached garage into the house and then stock two racks near the wood stoves. I make multiple trips into the garage. On my third or fourth trip, something catches my attention: a rustling sound in the far right corner. I can't see what's making it. Then, after fifteen or twenty seconds, I catch sight of the intruder. A small creature, long and lithe, emerges from beneath the ride-on mower and slinks into view. Altogether white except for its black eyes and the black tip of its tail, this animal rears up on hind legs and stares at me. I grasp that it's a weasel of some sort. I'm struck at once by its beauty. This animal is agile, supple, and alert. Despite my total ignorance of weasels, I decide that this one is female. She stares at me with interest but without any sign of alarm. I realize just then what has drawn her out: a bag of frozen garbage that I had carelessly left on the garage floor the previous night. One corner has been chewed open. This little beast has clearly been exploring the trash. Even as I watch, she scampers over to the bag, pokes her head inside, and returns to pilfering whatever she can extract. I step closer. She startles at once and darts under the mower. There's no sign of her for several minutes. Impatient, I return to my task of stocking firewood. Each time I return to the garage, however, I find her exploring the garbage, so I walk over, surprise her with my approach, pick up the bag, and remove it. My later visits to the garage show her still present as she attempts to figure out what happened to her smorgasbord.
It's clear to me that I can't let this animal remain here. For all I know, she is the source of the scratching sounds that Edith and I heard on the second floor. Spotting one such creature probably means that [End Page 132] others are present—an entire family, even. Very well, then: they have to go...